Independents opened three times more stores than chain stores in 2012
Independents now account for 69% of all retail and leisure units in Great Britain.
New figures from the Local Data Company (LDC) have shown that independents continued the trend of opening three times more stores than chain stores (15,932 v 5,558) in 2012.
The LDC said the net change for the full year was only just positive as independent-occupied units grew by 594 stores versus an increase of 2,564 in 2011. 2012 was a tale of two halves however, with positive growth in H1 2012 of 852 stores but a decline of 39 stores in H2 2012.
LDC director Matthew Hopkinson said: "This latest analysis of independents is a major wake up call for town centres. The fact that the second half of 2012 saw the first negative change since 2010 is of major concern. From positive growth in 2011 of 2.43% to negative change of -0.03% in the second half of 2012 the implications are significant.
"With over 300,000 independents across Great Britain then a marginal turn for the worse can create a large number of additional vacant units in a very short space of time. With the independent average for town centres having risen to 69% the potential for further dramatic change to our high streets is enormous.
"As with the recent vacancy rates Wales and the North are experiencing the greatest challenges. Comparison goods, your traditional high street shops, are closing at the fastest rate ever with significant decline in the Wales, the North East and the North West. Openings of food shops are helping driving positive change in the convenience sector as consumers perhaps seek solace from the supermarkets in light of rising prices and a decline in trust.
"The big question is whether this latest negative turn for the worse is the start of a downward spiral or merely a blip? The drawdown of the multiple anchors (-2.7% or 1,800 units in 2012) and the rising operating costs for these independents sadly suggests the former as town centres compete as just one of many destination choices for the ever demanding and technologically savvy consumer. The recent declining footfall figures in town centres reflect these changes."
Michael Weedon, deputy chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, said: "This is a storm warning. The tempest that broke over the high street in 2008 scuppered so many shops that the occupancy rate sank from 95% to 85% by the end of 2010, with one in seven units empty. It has stayed at roughly that level ever since, but only because a rising tide of new shop launches by independent shops has filled the void left by closures by retail chains going under or cutting back on store numbers.
"This flood of new independents continued through 2012, but net gains in the first half were slower than in 2011 and a net outflow began again in the last six months. With whole fleets of multiples foundering at the outset of 2013 the outlook is for falling occupancy rates once again. Retailers have to deal with the commercial realities, government must be prepared to keep the high street afloat - loading it with more cost in business rates in April would be to throw it a dead weight when what it really needs is a lifeline."